Theatre in Wales

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Why the Other Room Has Succeeded: Getting the Aesthetics Right

The Other Room: the First Five Years

Five Years of a New Venue , Theatre of Wales , May-14-19
The Other Room: the First Five Years by Five Years of a New Venue Neil McPherson has never appeared on this site, although the theatre where he has been Artistic Director since January 1999 has on one occasion. Aberystwyth writer-scholar Gwynne Edwards' adapted Hochhuth's “Sommer 1914- A Dance of Death” for the Finborough Theatre and it was reviewed here 4th September 2014.

First jobs make their first impact, the culture, ethos and aspiration in particular. Kate Wasserberg was a young director at the Finborough and its spirit courses through the Other Room. Neil McPherson may never have even set foot in Wales but his stamp is in its theatre, albeit indirectly.

Scale does not equal significance in the arts. The paintings of Simeon Solomon are vast in size and melodramatic in impact. The portrait of Lord Herbert of Cherbury in Powys Castle, one of the finest in Wales, is perfect and tiny. The Other Room has performed in Cardiff, in Edinburgh, in London. It has made an impact for three reasons. All three words begin with “A”: they are aesthetics, aspiration, audience.

Theatre is a making of art and art is an aesthetic phenomenon. Heritage, and heritage theatre, is not an artistic phenomenon since it seeks to console and reassure. Anaesthesia is thus its necessary method. Where a company's aesthetics are not made explicit they are implicit. But theatre directors aspire to that condition which is, and can only be, made in theatre. Digital theatre is a fashion statement. If the budget includes a cameraman waggling his machine with its limited aperture at actors it isn't going to be great theatre.

The marketing communications of the Other Room are as low in hot air, waffle and imprecision as they are in typos and errors. They don't do theory but a glimpse of the aesthetic commitment to theatre is to be found elsewhere. So first to a book. Bloomsbury published a collection “Contemporary Welsh Plays”- reviewed left books February 2016- edited by Tim Price & Kate Wasserberg. The line in the introduction on “Bruised” ran that it “barrels towards a heart-breaking revelation that would only be possible on a stage.” That is quite true; it was the best finale of my reviewing years, playwright Matthew Trevannion drawing on the full language of stagecraft.

Other parts of the implicit aesthetic are scattered around. This site rarely does profiles or features. Features outnumber reviews by a large margin in the media and are fundamentally promotional in nature. But a new theatre in Cardiff, founded on entrepreneurial drive rather than establishment policy, was significant.

The interview, below 19th January 2015 , touched on the reasons for opening with “Blasted”. In excerpt: “the main thing is about my own relationship with the world. What “Blasted” does so remarkably- and I get quite cross with the idea that it is sensational- is she [Sarah Kane] collapses the difference between you and the world, where the news is often hard to watch. And that is not a crazy thing to do. It’s the sane thing to do because, like it or not, that difference does not really exist.

“Everything happened in “Blasted”. All those horrible things that people get so upset about they all actually happened while she was writing the play. I feel ultimately it’s an incredibly humane play. And while it’s tough to watch, the act of writing it, the act of putting it on and the act of watching it are in themselves acts of compassion, and make me feel more hopeful about the world.”

This is as far from social-worky-touristy theatre as can be got. A later part of the aesthetic revealed itself, unexpectedly, on television. Kate Wasserberg directed several of the early plays of James Graham. In interview she recalled “When we were younger I used to get frustrated that he wasn't more partisan and it's only now that I've reached a level of maturity that I realise that this is exactly what we don't need and I think that's why he's so successful with audiences. People want to hear someone who's interested in what makes people do the things they do, not someone who affiliates with a tribe and attempts to justify that.”

It is right. Theatre is the art of fissure. The instant it wants to be huggy and Team Wales-ey it's over.

The second factor to the Other Room is the attitude to audience, which will be the topic of the conclusion of the 5-year summary.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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